On Monday night, in what the American Enterprise Institute’s Norman Ornstein called “a shameful act,” House Republicans voted 119-74 to “gut House Office of Congressional Ethics.”
This was the House’s outside ethics watchdog, independent of the House, now placed under the oversight of the members it was supposed to watch.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see the problems with this. As Ornstein put it, “House Republicans say goodbye to ethics! Despicable move.” This is something even the inept and corrupt John Boehner never tried to do, despite a complaint filed in 2015 against 23 House Republicans for misusing taxpayer funds.
This was the work of Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and not, as you might suspect, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who opposed the move, as did House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).
In the spirit of corruption pervading Trump’s New Order, the rank and file rebelled and in the spirit of swampy Trumpism, decided to put themselves above the law. There was no warning whatsoever this was coming.
Goodlatte claimed in a statement,
“It also improves upon due process rights for individuals under investigation, as well as witnesses called to testify. The (ethics office) has a serious and important role in the House, and this amendment does nothing to impede their work.”
The House Office of Congressional Ethics can no longer review violations of criminal law by House members but must refer them to the House Ethics Committee, which routinely ignores ethics complaints, or to the appropriate GOP-controlled federal law enforcement agency.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was quick to say “so much for draining the swamp”:
— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) January 3, 2017
In her statement, she said:
“Republicans claim they want to ‘drain the swamp,’ but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions. Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s reaction was scathing:
And now the @HouseGOP is gutting its ethics office in the middle of the night – hours before the new Congress is sworn in.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) January 3, 2017
Former Bush and Obama ethics lawyer Norman Eisen of nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said,
“If the 115th Congress begins with rules amendments undermining (the ethics office), it is setting itself up to be dogged by scandals and ethics issues for years and is returning the House to dark days when ethics violations were rampant and far too often tolerated.”
There were, as one might expect, some rather strong reactions from the usual social media sources, with Newsweek‘s Kurt Eichenwald, tweeting,
Trump supporters: Serious question, serious answer plz. How u feel bout House GOP trying 2 gut ethics oversight? I see it as swamp continues
— Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) January 3, 2017
Filmmaker and producer Rob Reiner expressed himself in even stronger terms:
No press access,no ethics committee. Most powerful country on earth being governed by tweets of a mentally unstable liar. Goodbye Democracy
— Rob Reiner (@robreiner) January 3, 2017
As AMJoy host Joy Reid says, “Any Republican who goes on television this week should be asked, repeatedly until they answer, about the gutting of the ethics office.”
Goodlatte pretends this is an improvement to existing ethics rules but it does nothing of the sort. Rather, it puts House members in charge of monitoring their own ethics, a proven recipe for disaster. The full House will vote today.
As Tom Fitton, President of Judicial Watch, tweeted in response, “Poor way to begin draining the swamp, @SpeakerRyan.”
Honestly, it would have been more of a surprise that with all impediments of democracy removed, Republicans would have done any differently. You can at least take comfort in the fact that House Republicans sank to the occasion. It’s what they do.
Matthew Gertz, Research Director at Media Matters for America, quipped, “They warned us that if a majority of Americans voted for Hillary Clinton we’d get historic corruption in Washington. They were right.”
Just not for the reasons they said.